The Israelization of the Old Continent does not imply a more significant influence of Israel on European countries and has no reference to a mass immigration of Israelis to Europe. In fact, many Jews across the continent are unfortunately witnessing history rear its ugly head. The frightening reemergence of anti-Semitism, coupled with anti-Israeli demonstrations in major European cities– resulting in brutal attacks on Jews during the last conflict between Israel and the Hamas– illustrate a new Jewish malaise in Europe. But the Israelization of Europe is happening, as Europe finds itself facing similar menaces to those of Israel, and responding in similar ways.
The demographic weight
Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has invariably been fighting for its own survival in an unstable region. Setting aside external military threats from neighboring countries committed to Israel’s destruction, Israeli leaders never underestimated the importance of keeping a Jewish majority within the state. From an Israeli standpoint, a demographic Jewish majority is crucial for maintaining Israel’s status as a Jewish homeland, one to which worldwide Jews could emigrate or find refuge in. Balancing the Jewish and Democratic mandates of the State, both set out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, has proven a challenge and continues to be central to domestic debates.
In order to uphold the Jewish majority, Israel legislated in 1950 the “Law of Return,” which allows Jews to become Israeli Citizens fairly easily. For decades, Palestinian leaders have insisted on a parallel “Right of Return” for descendants of refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars. But even in the most advanced of Peace Talks this point was never compromised on by Israelis, as it would disrupt the demographic balance so much as to alter the nature of the State.
Europe has been an engine of advancements and innovation for centuries, and its ethos couched in Judeo-Christian culture. In recent decades, with the advent of globalization, European society has been transformed by many migratory waves, most significantly made up of Muslim immigrants. These new Europeans have enriched old Europe and positively transformed European societies. A new cultural pluralism emerged all over the continent, and a peaceful European Union was formed.
However, this immigration wave also brought with it new challenges, most notably in integration and assimilation, which have increasingly become the focus of public attention. Since they make up the majority of immigrants to Europe, Muslim communities are at the center of the debate, as many European societies struggle with foreign customs such as polygamy, Talaq (a form of Islamic divorce initiated by men), provisions of Hallal food in public institutions, and other traditional practices.
Although most European countries aspire to have harmonious multicultural societies that provide equal opportunities to all citizens, numerous scholars and policy-makers now understand that multiculturalism has failed. In fact, citizens often pay more attention to what differentiates religious and ethnic communities, and not to what unifies individuals across race and faith. In an environment of growing cultural segregation, with religious enclaves forming inside many of Europe’s big cities, globalization has amplified domestic conflicts. In fact, the recent influx of Syrian refugees into Europe only increases the odds of such confrontation. Overwhelmed with the current situation, many European leaders have recently expressed their concern. This is the case of Hungarian PM Orban who said in an opinion piece for Germany’s Allgemeine Zeitung that refugees pouring into Europe threatened to undermine the continent’s Christian roots and governments must increase their controls. Additionally, Hungarian decision makers expressed their interest in consulting Israel on building a 175km-long fence along their border with Serbia to keep out an accelerating flow of migrants entering from the south. Similarly, last October, Austria and Slovenia erected fences to curb refugee inflow. These are the same European nations that strongly criticized Israel in the past for building a security fence along its borders for its own security.
As Middle Eastern instability and conflict spill into Europe, demographic concerns are increasingly debated amongst European leaders. After decades of being relatively absent, religion has re-emerged as and influential political factor, complicating interactions between state and non-state actors. Jonathan Sacks explains it well: “religions have fulfilled the 21st century imperative: ‘think globally; act locally’. The vision is global but the setting is local – the congregation, the synagogue, the church, the mosque.” Increasingly, many citizens do not feel necessarily affiliated to their own nation-state, but rather with a particular non-state-specific group, and this creates conflict and disorder. This sentiment is well known in Israel, where many Arab citizens feel themselves less Israeli and more a part of the Muslim world – the Ummah. This is now true in Europe as well, and this new reality contributes to renewed interest in religion and demography in Europe. If unity through diversity under a shared flag is not realized, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” may soon become a reality in Europe.
The Terrorist Peril
Clausewitz wrote that “each age has had its own peculiar forms of war.” Over the two last centuries, states were mostly concerned with possible invasion from an enemy state. During the Cold War, the former menace of invasion was replaced by a nuclear threat. So too, the age of globalization has seen the emergence of transnational threats, creating a new security environment and more complex challenges. Rapid technological and scientific improvements, particularly in information and communication, have allowed non-state actors such as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and others, to become influential transnational networks with global reach, worsening security threats worldwide. The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, which left 130 people dead and over 80 people injured is the most recent example of this sad reality.
Yet, what really makes the security concerns of the 21st century so unique is the shift from threats to the state to threats to the individual. Citizens may expect their government to protect them from all sorts of dangers, but evidently it is nearly impossible to afford full protection to each citizen. As such, one of the only options for governments is to manage emergent risks.
The Jewish state is probably (and sadly) an expert when it comes to confronting these risks. Putting aside all the wars that Israel fought since 1948, Israeli citizens have been the target of a staggering amount of terrorist attacks including bombings, shootings, rocket attacks, kidnappings, knife attacks, and more, all in public places on civilian population. The horrific images from Paris are all too familiar to Israelis.
In Europe, until 2004, terrorism was mostly limited to internal conflicts between states and separatists, such as ETA in Spain or IRA in the UK. But after a decade of the terrorist attacks (including Madrid 2004, London 2005, Glasgow 2007, Stockholm 2010, Toulouse 2012, Brussels 2014, Copenhagen and Paris 2015, not to mention numerous thwarted attempts) Europeans now recognize the importance of understanding the origins of Islamist terrorism. And yet little has been done to contain religiously-motivated violence. What remains probably the hardest part for Europeans to digest is the fact that the perpetrators of these attacks were almost all, as Gilles Kepel would call them, “children of their own multicultural society”. In other words, they grew up in the same society and with the same rights, benefits and opportunities as their fellow citizens.
Israel has always been at the forefront of asymmetric warfare and the battle against terrorism. When it comes to security matters, Israel learned the hard way that it cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe. For years, European leaders proclaimed that Israel has the right to defend itself and exist in secure borders, but their support was only theoretical. Almost every time Israel took military action in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, European leaders condemned the modus operandi of the Israeli forces – involving mainly targeted killings from the air or the sea. They bemoaned disproportionate use of force and deplored the unbearable sufferings of the Palestinian people. Israel’s actions of course mirror those of Western powers in Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq, and now in Syria. Just a day after the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, French president Francois Hollande decided to intensify his military operations in Syria, allowing more targeted operations from the air. No condemnations followed, nor any insinuation of disproportionate response. It seemed like a normal and legitimate response because France was under attack and as emotion was at its peak. If it were Israel, the streets of Europe would be crowded with thousands of demonstrators in front of Israeli embassies to denounce the atrocities perpetrated by Israel. This double standard has existed in Europe for years.
But as Europe’s reality starts to mimic Israel’s, will the standard hold? Israel was the first country to introduce full body checks in its airports decades ago. At the time, many Europeans were outraged at the possible invasion of privacy. Today, there is not a single airport in Europe that you can pass without a full body scan. Last August, following a terrorist attack aboard a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, in which two people were wounded while struggling to subdue a heavily-armed gunman, policy makers in Europe decided to impose tighter security at European railway stations. In Israel, every passenger train has security guards, and all passengers go through security checks before entering train stations. Lastly, in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris, security was reinforced with the deployment of the army in public places, security guards in front of malls and theatres in Paris, and even checkpoints installed in Brussels. In Israel, this sad reality is no news; such deployments have existed for decades because of the incessant security threats that Israelis face. Europeans may have something to learn from Israelis about how to live a happy life despite being constantly under threat of death. According to the World Happiness Report 2015, Israel is the 11th happiest country in the world, ahead of the US (15), Luxembourg (17), Britain (21), Japan (46), Russia (64), China (84).
So what now?
In the last 60 years, while Israel found itself in a constant state of insecurity and war, Europe grew as a strong and peaceful economic power. The European Union has made war at the home front almost inconceivable. This very comfortable situation did not stop many of Europe’s leaders from finding great satisfaction in preaching Israel. Too obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, European leaders have failed to grasp the region’s real problems, which are now at their own doors.
Perhaps it is time that Europeans realize they are at war, and that they share a common enemy with Israel: Islamic totalitarian political ideology, which is simply not compatible with Western liberal democratic institutions.
It is time for Europeans to understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state and those who are committed to its destruction. Those who attack Israel’s innocent citizens on a daily basis are the same extremist militants who oppose European democratic values, and who randomly attack European citizens.
Israel and the European Union have common democratic values, economic interests and security challenges. They have the potential to become closer allies and together make this messy world a better place. The sooner Europeans will grasp it, the better, because the Israelization of Europe is definitely under way.
Sacks Jonathan, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (2002) p.43
Clausewitz trans. Matthijs Jolles (1950) p.584
Moskos (2000) p.16
Euronews.com, Tighter security to be imposed at European railway stations, 30/08/2015